AMD Debuts New Six-Core Opterons, Bulldozer-Compatible Socket

When AMD's 8-12 core Magny-Cours architecture launched three months ago, we noted that it was simply the first step in a two-pronged refresh and the beginning of a top-to-bottom revamp of AMD's server offerings. As of today, AMD has finished that process; the company's new Opteron 4100 series (codenamed Lisbon) updates the 4-6 core server products the same way Magny-Cours updated and extended the upper end of the server market.

Unlike Magny-Cours, AMD's Lisbon series features the same 4-6 cores that have been available via existing Istanbul/Shanghai processors, but deliver several CPU and chipset enhancements. Lisbon CPUs now support the power-saving C1E mode which can substantially reduce processor power consumption while idle, and the processor's memory controller now supports both standard and low-voltage DDR3-1333.

Like Istanbul, Lisbon is based on a unified core design with a dual-channel memory controller while the new C32 socket offers HyperTransport links clocked at 6.4GB/s of bandwidth, up from 4.8GB/s on Socket F. Combined, these two advances substantially increase peak available bandwidth. Total DDR3 bandwidth (assuming DDR3-1333) is 21.3GB/s, up from 12.8GB/s, while HT bandwidth is up to 51.GB/s up from 38.4GB/s.

With the launch of Lisbon and its C32 socket, AMD has bifurcated its server sockets for the first time since it introduced the original AMD 760MP back in 2001. For years after it launched K8 and Opteron, AMD claimed that its unified socket approach offered customers a superior value proposition compared to Intel's various chipsets. Now that both C32 and G34 are available, AMD has switched its tone, claiming that this two-pronged approach suddenly allows the company to offer a better-targeted value proposition.

Leaving aside that dubious logic, AMD's new C32 socket does offer present-day shoppers a potentially compelling reason to buy—it's already certified as Bulldozer compatible. In that sense, AMD's history of providing strong upgrade paths will continue, particularly as the number of cores per physical processor continues to grow.

Server Pricing: Slashed To Sell

One of the things that surprised us most about the company's Magny-Cours launch was the degree to which AMD slashed its prices and compressed its product offerings. The company has followed suit here; the cheapest quad-core Opteron 4122 (2.2GHz) is $99. For server processors, that's a virtually unheard of value. AMD's new lineup also includes ultra-low power processors with an ACP of 32W and a 1.8GHz clockspeed.

AMD's argument for Opteron 4100 processors as a superior cloud computing solution

AMD claims it wants to push into cloud-computing centers where customers don't necessarily need high performance-per-core sore much as they need a lot of cores for disparate applications. Many of the caveats we discussed when Intel launched its Westmere-EP Xeons, however, still apply:  In certain cases, the Westmere's high clockspeeds and efficiency have proven to outperform AMD's new Opterons, even when the AMD chips had substantially more cores available.

Regardless of how AMD and Intel match up in any particular benchmark, there's no avoiding the fact that Sunnyvale has done virtually the only thing it could do to prop up its server business until Bulldozer comes along. AMD still isn't talking much about that processor, saying little more than that it expects the next-generation processor in 2011.